Riding a six-fight win streak, Thompson (12-1) squares off with Rory MacDonald (18-3) in a UFC Fight Night main event from Ottawa, Canada.
Considering MacDonald's place in the welterweight division, losing an all-out war to current champ Robbie Lawler at UFC 189 in July, a title shot could be in the cards for the victor.
Thompson spoke with ESPN.com about his thoughts on the matchup with MacDonald and how a kickboxing match in Montreal more than 10 years ago got him to where he is today. "Wonderboy" was also honest about his disappointment in not getting a title shot, and having to fight someone he has a good relationship with.
What was your reaction when you found out you'd be fighting Rory MacDonald?
I was expecting to get the title shot after defeating Johny Hendricks in the first round, so I was kind of disappointed having to fight Rory MacDonald, just because we do have a good relationship. We go back years. Me going up there, training with Tristar with Georges St-Pierre, whenever he was fighting. It was kind of disappointing, but sometimes at the top of the game you've got to fight a friend. We understand it's business. We're ready to go out there and throw down, put on a show for the fans in the UFC.
Do you feel this fight is a lateral move for you, that you've proven you're title worthiness with your win over Hendricks?
I think so. I thought I had it in the bag, finishing the former welterweight champion, the guy who went five rounds with Georges St-Pierre, which was controversial, 10 rounds with the champ now, Robbie Lawler. The Robbie Lawler win was controversial as well. Some people say that Johny Hendricks won that fight. I look it as me actually defeating the welterweight champion, but in the first round. Nobody has ever done that to him. I was expecting to get that, but sometimes you've got to prove to the fans in the UFC that you maybe got one more shot before you fight for the title. It is what it is.
You were nearly a 2-to-1 underdog when you fought Hendricks. Why do you feel you were, and why did you think your performance was so eye-opening?
I feel like I was the underdog because my wrestling and my ground game hasn't been really tested since when I fought Matt Brown. Everybody thought this guy being a high level wrestler that we was, taking down the best guys in the division, was going to just take me down and grind me out, maybe lay and pray, or even hit me with that big left hand. But you know what? My training camp, I've been training the wrestling, the jiu-jitsu all the time. Having guys like Chris Weidman as a training partner, a sparring partner, and that's pretty much his game, to get you down, take you down, which everybody in our division I know at some point is going to want to do, is get me down to the ground. It makes 170 seem a whole lot easier when you've got somebody as big as Chris.
Nobody really expected me to go out there and finish him like I did. Whenever he got me against the cage, that's kind of when everybody held their breath a little bit. "Oh my God, he's gonna take him down." I just stayed calm, relaxed. I knew at some point he had to try and progress his position. Once he did that, I worked my way up, separated. I knew from then on it was over. If you've seen Johny Hendricks fight once, you've seen him fight a hundred times. I knew exactly what he was going to do, and we prepared for that.
You mentioned training at Tristar, where Rory MacDonald trains, in the past. When was that?
I think that was 2004, 2005 I believe. Might have been 2005. I fought up in Montreal, it was kickboxing. My opponent, I looked across and had Georges St-Pierre and Firas Zahabi working my opponent's corner. I ended up finishing the guy I think in the fifth round. After that, Georges had a big fight coming up. They wanted me to come in and just be a sparring partner for him. At the time I didn't have any wrestling and jiu-jitsu. I put that on the back burner to focus on kickboxing.
Those guys are actually my inspiration to switch from kickboxing to mixed martial arts. I found myself learning the wrestling, learning the jiu-jitsu, just to be a better sparring partner for Georges. I was like, "Man, I'm training with the world's best right now, why not switch over to mixed martial arts?" I did that in 2010, had my first fight. Getting ready to fight the No. 1 contender now, so to be honest I'm just feeling blessed to be where I'm at.
So back when you had that fight in Montreal, MMA wasn't on your radar, only kickboxing?
Exactly. Slowly started to switch over. I started learning more wrestling, more jiu-jitsu. When I was up there, I was still fairly green when it came to it. Yeah man, those guys were definitely my inspiration to switch over, they got me hooked on it.
Did you every train or spar with Rory?
Most of the time, it was with Georges. Rory was in the UFC, I believe, and training there as well. I think at one point he was in the middle of rehabbing a knee injury, so we'd done some wrestling drills together. We never actually sparred. There you do a lot of hanging out with each other, so yeah we developed a good relationship just through that.
Based on your relationship, would you prefer not to fight someone you're friendly with, considering what is on the line for the winner?
Yeah man. You always want to see your friends do well, and you want to see them succeed. We have the same goals. We both want to be champion. Like I was saying before, we are friends, but I know if I don't go out there and give it 100 percent for Rory, it's like a slap in the face to him. If he is going to move up, or if I'm going to move up, I know that he's going to give me 100 percent. I want to do the same thing for him. We're going to make sure that we deserve it. I'm just excited to see what that experience is going to be like, stepping out there with him in Ottawa.
If Firas Zahabi was to put together a game plan based on the fighter he saw from your time at Tristar, why wouldn't it work today?
Just because, at the time, I was very green, like I said. After that loss to Matt Brown, it definitely opened my eyes to what I really needed to work on. I think that I just evolved tremendously from that point. They understand that. They know that, just from seeing my fights in the past, my takedown defense and to be able to get back up to my feet to fight standing, where I want it to be. They're bringing in Raymond Daniels, Michael Page and these karate fighters in for this camp. They're good strategists, and they're going to have good strategy going out there next week.
I got to be ready for that, but what better guy to have on your side, who fights fairly similar to Rory, than Chris Weidman? He definitely helped me out a lot for this camp. He ended up injuring his neck a few weeks ago, so I wasn't able to finish up my last camp there, but I got great guys here, my wrestling coach, Carlos Machado. Everybody at Upstate Karate to Team Pitch Black definitely helped out tremendously for this camp.
Do you feel your best chance to win is to get an early stoppage or to grind it out for 25 minutes?
For me, I just have to go out there and whatever happens, happens. Just for confidence, I know that I can go out there and do five five-minute rounds nonstop. That's what gives me the confidence to go out there the way I fought Johny Hendricks. I didn't expect that. I had no idea I was going to finish him in the first round. I thought it was going to go all five rounds. As tough as Rory is, and especially after you saw his last fight with Robbie Lawler, he's the kind of guy that takes shots and just keeps on coming, man. Acts like it doesn't even hurt him. I'm expecting to go out there and do that, have the same game plan, same mindset as I did against Johny Hendricks: Be ready for that. If you're not ready for that, guy can break you mentally.
It's MacDonald's first fight back since taking a lot of punishment against Lawler last July. Do you feel that could play a factor?
Yeah man, I mean he did take a lot of damage in that fight. I think he ended up breaking his nose, but I didn't become the fighter that I was if it wasn't for my loss to Matt Brown. I became a better fighter from it. I feel that he's going to be, for my confidence level, just know that I'm ready, I'm prepared for the best Rory MacDonald. That's who I expect when I go out there and face him. I don't like to think that that last fight might have broken him, he may not be the same, and then me go out there and it could be totally different. I'm ready for the worst-case scenario. I'm ready for the best Rory MacDonald.
Come Saturday night in Ottawa when Tenacious D hits the loudspeakers, you could be met with a chorus of boos from a partisan Canadian crowd. How do you not let that affect you?
I've fought Canadians in Canada before. I fought Chris Clements in Toronto. I love fighting in Montreal. I love fighting in Canada, period. I fought in Toronto, it was awesome. I've never been to Ottawa. I take that back, I did a media tour there before this fight. It's a beautiful place. I know the fans are going to be there for Rory, but I fought in many arenas where I was either the underdog or in somebody's home town. I just don't let it get to me. I go out there, I put on a smile, I wave, and ... You know actually, my last fight, Johnny Hendricks, they had people booing me, and they were cheering more for Johny Hendricks than they were me. I just go out there and do what I do, man. I stay focused on that.
What does a wedding with the Weidman and Thompson families look like?
It was awesome, man. We had pretty much the entire population of Long Island coming down to South Carolina. My brother ended up marrying Chris Weidman's sister. It was crazy how that ended up turning out. I was up there in Long Island helping him out for Lyoto Machida. My brother Tony's like, "Hey man I want to come out there with you." I was like, "Yeah man, come on. Come and hang out." Next thing you know ... I didn't even know Chris had a sister then. They ended up meeting up. It just hit off from there. Next thing you know she's moving down to South Carolina. Next thing you know they're engaged. It's great, man. Good, fighter family. I'm glad we got to bring these families together thanks to those two. They're a great family.